The announcement earlier this week that 53,000ha of
Central Otago countryside is going to be protected under
Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenants has prompted
plenty of applause. As Shane Gilchrist discovers, history is
being made in the hinterland.
Snow bunnies have long praised the vistas from Treble Cone,
Cardrona, Coronet Peak and other high perches in the terrain
between Wanaka and the Wakatipu.
So, too, have passengers whose flights to or from Queenstown
have offered another vantage point of all those rugged
mountains clothed in tussock.
Now, there is a different view to ponder: that 53,000ha of
the countryside - equal in size to the combined areas of
Paparoa and Abel Tasman national parks - is going to be
Earlier this week, the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust and
Soho Properties Ltd, a company linked with millionaire record
producer Robert ''Mutt'' Lange, announced an agreement to
place covenants over most of Motatapu, Mount Soho, Glencoe
and Coronet Peak stations, which cover a large part of the
country between Lake Wanaka and Arrowtown and are bordered by
the Shotover River and the Cardrona Valley.
The covenants will protect outstanding high-country
landscapes, flora and fauna, significant heritage sites as
well as opening up access to areas for recreational use,
including walking and mountain-biking. In effect, it is
similar to a national park but is held in private hands.
It is a big deal, according to Mike Jebson, chief executive
of the QEII National Trust.
''This set of four covenants is equivalent to 15 years of our
''We get about $4.2 million in funding annually from the
Crown (signed off by the Minister of Conservation) to support
our work. We have annual targets of numbers of areas to
"We now have about 4000 covenants across the country, from
Stewart Island to the Far North.''
The approval of the Soho Property Ltd covenant brings the
QEII National Trust's total protected area to more than
Excluding the Soho proposal, covenants vary in size from less
than 1ha to 6500ha. The average size of a covenant is 30ha.
''It is definitely a huge asset to the public of New Zealand,
right in the heart of one of our most important tourism
zones,'' Mr Jebson said.
It is expected the covenants will be formally registered in
early 2015, after survey work has been completed and
processed by the Commissioner of Crown Lands.
The commissioner is responsible for administering Crown
Controlled by Mr Lange (who has an estimated fortune of more
than $US200 million, according to celebritynetworth.com),
Soho Properties Ltd is bearing much of the cost of the
This includes: controlling pest species such as goats,
possums, wilding pines and other weeds; major planting
programmes on river margins; fencing off waterways, wetlands,
tussocklands and shrublands; working with Ngai Tahu and the
Department of Conservation on reintroducing native buff weka
to the area; and retiring almost all previously farmed areas
with the exception of valley floors that can sustain sheep
''The covenant doesn't encapsulate the entire property; 5% of
the combined land of the four properties remains available to
be farmed and sits outside the covenant; the remaining 95% of
land has to be surveyed to satisfy the contractual conditions
of the covenant,'' Mr Jebson said.
''Obviously, a lot of this land is very remote so the
surveying, to get those boundaries established, will be done
by helicopter and field work.
''In this case, we are in an extremely fortunate position in
that the landowner has done virtually all the fencing
"There is a small amount of fencing left to be done.''
In regards to public access, Overseas Investment Office rules
already require Soho to provide walking access easements to
But it seems that's just the start.
''There will be an extensive network of tracks, some of which
are formed already, some of which will be formed.
"These will criss-cross over the properties and open up areas
to which the public hasn't had access previously,'' Mr Jebson
''It won't be open slather over all the covenanted areas
because, obviously, there are still some areas of farmland
''There will certainly be additional huts.
"There are already three huts on an existing track that goes
between Glendhu Bay and Arrowtown, part of Te Araroa (the
3000km national trail stretching from Cape Reinga to Bluff).
But there is now the opportunity to look at other spots for
huts,'' Mr Jebson said.
''Access is not directly part of the covenant but is being
developed in parallel, through the work we are doing with
Soho Property Ltd, the New Zealand Walking Access Commission,
the Department of Conservation and the Queenstown Lakes
''From my point of view, we are working very well with our
partners in Heritage New Zealand, the Department of
Conservation, the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the
NZ Walking Access Commission. Everyone is on the same page,''
Mr Jebson said.
Ric Cullinane, operations manager for the New Zealand Walking
Access Commission, points out that Soho is going well beyond
its brief in terms of providing access to its land.
''Soho is required, through the OIO, to bring all the tracks
up to a minimum standard, which it has already done
enthusiastically. Soho is generously presenting a fantastic
package,'' Mr Cullinane said.
''Mutt Lange has generously provided at least another four
tracks for a range of purposes, including to provide a better
gradient or contour as well as take in some scenic or
The Walking Access Commission is working on easement and
other legal aspects of public access.
It will present this information to the Commissioner of Crown
Lands for approval of ''development corridors.''
''The QEII covenant attaches to the lease, which is owned by
Mutt Lange and his company; the easements are attached to the
land, which is owned by the Crown,'' Mr Cullinane says.
''There is a raft of statutory hoops we have to go through
with the Commissioner of Crown Lands.
"We are working with him, Doc, QLDC, and Queenstown Trails
Trust in terms of management, development and maintenance of
''We should have most of the information to the commissioner
by the end of September, maybe October,'' Mr Cullinane said,
adding he expected the first stage of approval ''in
principle'' of up to 21 tracks by early next year.
''Most of the routes are already being used. Macetown Road is
There is no legal right to be on that road; some other tracks
are just lines on a map and need to be determined; others
need to be formed and benched.
''This is a huge opportunity for the area. A lot of bike and
walking trails are already there but are quite flat.
"This adds another whole dimension,'' he said.
''You might spend a day walking along flats, then be
clambering over wild tussock country the next.
"There is a whole suite of amenity use that is more than the
sum of its parts. It's a pretty exciting announcement.''